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Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity Paperback – October 17, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The economic boom of the 1990s-low unemployment and inflation, a soaring stock market, big government surpluses-was actually something of a bust, according to this incisive study. Pollin, an academic economist and co-author of The Living Wage, presents his own research on the period and ably synthesizes a comprehensive left critique of Clintonomics. He argues that the Clinton-era boom was mediocre compared with previous ones and based on an unsustainable stock market bubble, the result of financial deregulation that left households and companies carrying high levels of debt and the economy unstable. The benefits, moreover, accrued mainly to the rich, he says; workers' wages stagnated for most of the period, even as their productivity climbed, thanks to pervasive job insecurity caused by foreign competition and weak unions. Meanwhile, Clinton's "Third Way" policies of welfare and social spending cutbacks and shrinking the relative size of government squandered a historic opportunity to reduce poverty. Abroad, the neoliberal prescription of government austerity, privatization and free trade pressed on Third World countries by the Clinton Administration led to slow growth, financial crises and depression. Needless to say, Pollin doesn't view Clinton's successor as an improvement, and lambastes what he sees as Bush's single-minded fixation on undermining organized labor and showering tax cuts on the rich. Pollin's sophisticated but accessible treatment, free of jargon and unobtrusively supported by telling statistics and graphs, is a model of lucid argumentation that will appeal to wonks and laypeople alike. His call for a social democratic program of full employment, higher minimum wages, labor rights and reinvigorated government regulation presents a compelling challenge to the free-market, free-trade orthodoxies of neoliberalism.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“A major new book by the eminent US economist Robert Pollin ... does an excellent job of demystifying the true nature of boom and bust in the US and clearly identifying the effects on different sectors of US society as well as on the rest of the world. In addition to this critical assessment, Pollin goes beyond analysis in seriously putting forward alternative economic policies. What is even more important is that he manages to do this in a lucid and highly readable style, which makes the book very approachable for the non-economist.”—Jayati Ghosh, Frontline
“I strongly urge you to read Robert Pollin’s Contours of Descent.”—Alexander Cockburn, The Nation
“This is a book sophisticated enough to be of interest to those with economics training, but written in a comprehensible and popular style, so that without sacrificing rigor it will be accessible to any interested reader.”—Edward S. Herman, Monthly Review
“Pollin is a people’s economist who presents complex economic issues in a comprehensible form and helps the reader sift through the class biases of conventional economics.”—Jerry Kloby, Shelterforce
“Robert Pollin has succeeded admirably in debunking the celebratory tone that seemed to have infected most journalists and too many economists during the late 1990s.”—Michael Meeropol, Challenge
“Contours of Descent is lucid economics as if reality matters. Cutting through the myths, hype and diversionary corporate-side indicators, Professor Pollin lays out an agenda to turn around the economy that is increasingly disconnecting from millions of workers and their well-being. A laser-beam exposure of globalization as defined by the World Bank, the IMF, Alan Greenspan and the corporate supremacists.”—Ralph Nader
“Robert Pollin’s readable and sharply argued book is an excellent guide to the reality of recent US economic policy and its global implications.”—Andrew Glyn, Oxford University
“Pollin writes with great clarity and a total lack of dogmatism ... Above all, Pollin is committed and he does not pull his policy punches.”—John King, Journal of Australian Political Economy
“This insightful book dissects the consequences of the neoliberal revolution of the 1990s, and offers valuable lessons for the neophyte and professional economist alike.”—Professor Dani Rodrik, Harvard University
“Professor Pollin is one of the leading heterodox economists in the US. His rigorous and insightful analysis convincingly demonstrates that Clinton and Bush as well as the IMF have each followed fundamentally similar neoliberal economic policies to the detriment of people in the US and the developing world. Importantly, the book also outlines an alternative policy program for building a prosperous US and world economy. It is a ‘must read’ for those who wish to understand recent developments in the US and the world economy.”—Professor Ajiit Singh, Cambridge University
“Contours of Descent does a great job in making current U.S. and global economic issues accessible to the average reader. Pollin presents a clear discussion of what he terms ‘the Marx Problem,’ ‘the Keynes Problem,’ and ‘the Polanyi Problem,’ as they apply both in the U.S. under Clinton and Bush, and in the developing countries. Most importantly, the book ends by demonstrating that ‘another path is possible’—sketching a workable egalitarian policy agenda in both the U.S. and developing country context, focused on full employment, defending workers rights, and regulating financial markets.”—Professor Lourdes Beneria, Cornell University
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Top customer reviews
What is most useful in Pollin's analysis is the debunking work it performs. More specifically, Pollin makes it clear that Clintonomics differs from Bush the Younger's 'New Rapacity' mostly in degree but not in kind. The stock market bubble economy of the late 1990s merely obscured the class biases inherent in the administration's policies, biases which Clinton expressed by claiming that he would be an Eisenhower Republican.
Pollin's critical work won't prove to be overly useful to those implementing the neoliberal consensus at home and abroad. They will likely ignore it and will continue to greatly exploit whomever they can, whenever they can, notwithstanding the consequences produced by their policies and actions. On the other hand, his analysis should be very useful to those on the left who believe the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party has something to offer in economic matters. It does, of course: It offers a recipe for making the rich richer and the poor poorer! What it fails to offer is a strategic path leading to a full employment and high growth economy in the United States and elsewhere. Pollin sheds a much-needed light on the methods and consequences of neoliberalism. We can only hope that it aids sensible Americans as they make their way out of the Democratic Party.
Mr. Pollin is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The humanity and practicality that infuses this book is no doubt a reflection of Mr. Pollin's real world experiences, which includes work on developing living wage proposals in various U.S. cities, serving as a consultant to the United Nations Development Program in Bolivia, and as Economic Spokesperson to the 1992 Presidential campaign of Governor Jerry Brown.
Neoliberalism is defined by the "Washington consensus" of decreased government spending, free trade and deregulated markets. Mr. Pollin critiques the system for its three major defects: The "Marx problem" pertaining to the relative bargaining relationship between employers and workers; the "Keynes problem" of the tendency of financial markets to engage in speculation; and the "Polanyi problem" of the corrupting effect of corporate power.
The author builds a convincing case that all three problems have been exacerbated by neoliberalist policies, resulting in a host of deleterious effects. These include widening gaps between the rich and poor (Marx), speculative bubbles in the financial markets (Keynes), accounting scandals (Polanyi), and others. Moreover, the author provides research to show that the cumulative effect of these policies has been to slow world economic growth, thereby undoing years of progress and preventing many developing nations from significantly raising living standards for their citizens.
Mr. Pollin critiques the Clinton administration and Robert Rubin in particular for championing financial market deregulation as the linchpin for its "Eisenhower Republican" economic strategy. The author is presuasive in detailing how the stock market boom of the 1990s provided fuel for the economic boom; unfortunately, its demise quickly erased most of the gains attributed to the Clinton economy, such as a real decrease in the number of persons living in poverty. In fact, the author suggests that the single-minded pursuit of a balanced budget allowed Clinton to squander a historic opportunity to use surplus government dollars to invest in education, healthcare and the environment --programs that the author believes are critical to creating a more durable kind of prosperity for the American people.
Mr. Pollin launches a no less scathing critique of the Bush administration's policies, which the author believes have been designed to be little more than a "bonanza to the rich" at the expense of workers. The author explains that crisis has been used by Bush to justify giveaways to corporations and the wealthy; meanwhile, aggressively anti-labor and anti-environmental policies have further squeezed living standards for most. Furthermore, by highlighting the inconsistencies in Bush's budget proposals, Mr. Pollin suggests that the administration is intent on creating a fiscal crisis in order to force a dismantling of the populist social safety net.
One section that I found particularly interesting was Mr. Pollin's discussion of stimulating the economy by means of defense spending and the Iraq war. His analysis of the situation however suggests that the occupation of Iraq will further slow the U.S. economy as a whole but will benefit specific corporations engaged in the production and distribution of oil, thereby calling into question the real motives for the war.
Mr. Pollin dedicates a chapter examining the "landscape of global austerity" that has resulted from Washington's imposition of neoliberal policies onto the developing world. The analysis focuses on case studies in India, Argentina and elsewhere to highlight the human costs of the neoliberal experiment in specific countries. For example, the author shows how Asian sweatshop bosses have repressed their workers in order to gain competitive advantage for their export-oriented economies. The author argues that "policies to eliminate sweatshops and guarantee workers decent...minimum wages" are needed to narrow inequality, restore impoverished communities and develop new markets.
The final chapter explores the author's alternative economic policies more fully. The recommendations include full-employment policies, living wages and labor rights to solve the Marx problem, and financial system regulation, taxation, and increased banking reserve requirements to solve the Keynes problem. The issue is one of morality as well. Recalling Adam Smith, the author suggests that continuing with the failed neoliberal experiment of privileging the interests of capital over the rights of people amounts to "corruption of moral sentiments on a global scale" and should rightly yield to an economics dedicated to equity and social justice.
I strongly recommend this powerful, insightful and humane book to everyone.